The Sexy Mid-range Phone To Get

ASUS ZenFone 3. By Liu Hongzuo.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

ASUS ZenFone 3. By Liu Hongzuo.

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DISPLAY 5.5-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, IPS
PROCESSOR Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 octa-core, 2.0GHz
DIMENSIONS 150 x 76 x 8.65mm
PRICE $498

Third time’s the charm and the overall build quality and material choices used for the ZenFone 3 stands out more than anything else. Its polished glass rear is a huge upgrade to the old metallic-looking plastic cover, and the mildly chamfered edges are now consistent with the button’s shine and blends seamlessly into the aluminum construction. It feels like ASUS picked up the monolithic design language left behind by Sony, and manages to achieve a much better effect.'

The 7.69mm thin phone feels lighter than it looks, yet hardy enough when gripped. Button and finger print sensor placements also complement the design well. Our fingers naturally rested on the power key, and the fingerprint sensor on the back meant it was easy to start the phone up from a locked state.

The ASUS ZenFone 3 uses a 5.5-inch, Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution) IPS display, while boasting a display brightness of 600 nits and 178 degree viewing angle. This combination led ASUS to claim the ZenFone 3’s display can be read from any direction, a claim we are glad to substantiate.

Most smartphones as of late do not have notable audio enhancements. The ZenFone 3, however, uses new “5-magnet NXP Amp” powered speakers for volume and frequency distinction. According to ASUS, this allows the phone to deliver loud volume with less distortion, while ensuring little damage to speakers over time. The ZenFone 3 also supports Hi-Res Audio output rated at 24-bit/96KHz or 24-bit/192KHz, which is uncommon for a $500 phone.

On the UI front, most of the ZenUI 3.0’s latest additions are superficial. You get weather animations for weather related notifications, and they implemented a bokeh effect to its app drawer. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that the current iteration of ZenUI feels quite clean and intuitive.

GameGenie is similar to the Game Launcher found on the Samsung Galaxy S7. However, it provides a slightly different set of utilities. You can still boost your device via Speed Booster, but what GameGenie offers is the ability to look up game tips and guides with the search button. The Search ability opens up a browser with relevant links without leaving the game, making it really handy to have.

The ZenFone 3 uses the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 octa-core processor clocked at 2.0GHz – it’s the first 600 series processor that uses the same 14mn FinFET manufacturing process that created the flagship Snapdragon 820 processor, thus providing massive power savings and performance enhancements over the previous generation 600-series processors. The ZenFone 3 may not have the sexiest benchmarking score of the lot, but the phone works fast for webbrowsing purposes, and it handles games just fine.

The 16-megapixel rear camera is pretty standard specs for a mid-range device, but what’s interesting is the inclusion of ASUS TriTech Autofocus and 4-axis optical image stabilization. The autofocus system combines laser, phase detection, and contrast detection, capable of locking focus in 0.03 seconds. In use, image quality is decent and the phone focuses very quickly (as promised). Colors are distinct and relatively vibrant, leaning towards a warmer color temperature on a whole.

Battery life is actually very decent compared to its predecessors, most probably due to the switch to the new Qualcomm platform. In our test among similar devices, the ZenFone 3’s 3,000mAh battery was only eclipsed by the 2016 Samsung Galaxy A7.

At $498, The ASUS ZenFone 3 is better looking with more base storage than affordable alternatives like the $299 Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (that uses an older processor). And for its price, it packs a performance that can outclass previous generation Snapdragon 810 flagships such as the OnePlus 2 and Sony Xperia Z5 series, making the ZenFone 3 an excellent all-round device and an exceptional successor to the ZenFone 2 series.


Stylish physical design with good value for performance. If you’ve got $500 to spend on your next phone, the ZenFone 3 is a no-brainer.

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The ZenFone 3 has a fingerprint sensor on the back and is the first from ASUS’s stable.

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As seen in our test image, it captures the creases of the wine bottle’s foil very well, even if it struggles with the spooling on the threads (most smartphone cameras can’t capture the sewing thread’s details anyway).

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